A Blast Into the Past: Swell “Leave it to Beaver‘’ Fun Facts

“Leave it to Beaver” is like a nice big slice of Americana pie. It’s a blast to the past, back to the “good old days.”  At the time the sitcom was released, the economy was rockin’ with high pay and great prices. People were proud to be American!
Getty Images Photo by Hulton Archive
Getty Images Photo by Hulton Archive
Are you ready to dive into a bygone era? Let’s take a look-see at a long list of swell anecdotes from the “Leave it to Beaver” vault. Here are some facts from the iconic ‘50s sitcom.

The Cleaver Family Looked Different in the Pilot Episode

Only two of the actors from the pilot, “It’s a Small World,” went on to portray the iconic family we know and love today. Jerry Mathers and Barbara Billingsley, the Beaver and his loving mother June, starred in the first episode that aired in 1957.

 

After that, big brother Wally and head-of-the-household, Ward Cleaver, would be portrayed by different actors.

They Had a Wonderful Friendship, but It Didn’t Start Out Like That

The actors who portrayed Wally and the Beaver, the Cleaver brothers, were fantastic buddies on TV.

 

But at the time, there was a wide age gap between the two, and they really did not hang out off-set. It was only later that the two actors became close and formed their lifelong friendship.

Tony Dow Got Into Acting Completely by Chance

Tony did not audition for the role of Wally; he just happened to be at the right place at the right time. He was not a trained actor. As it happened, he accompanied his buddy Johnny White, who was a lifeguard at the athletic club he worked out at, to an open audition.

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The next thing he knew, he was hired. Ironically, his friend Johnny was an actor, but Tony got the part instead.

Tony Dow Was an Olympic Hopeful

Tony was training at the Hollywood athletic club that fateful day. There was nothing he loved more than sports, and he was a gifted athlete. In high school, he lettered in every sport.

 

His best and favorite sport was swimming. Many people don’t know this, but he was a junior diving champion and broke a national record at age nine!

June Cleaver Was Not as Tall as She Appeared

To retain some height over the boys as they grew taller, Barbara Billingsley wore high heels, very high heels.

 

Considering how significantly the portrayal of women has changed in Hollywood since the ’50s, the sight of her wearing heels while cooking and cleaning provides endless fodder for mockery by modern perspectives.

“Leave It to Beaver” Is a Required Study at Some Colleges

However, if you’re a diehard “Leave it to Beaver” fan, you may not enjoy the course. Sociology professors teach about social values and norms by using the show as an example.

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Students might compare the 1950s sitcom with more current family programs like “Family Matters,” or “Modern Family.”

Jerry Mathers Wanted to Go to High School Like Regular Kids

In 1963, Wally and the Beave were growing out of their roles. The precocious baby brother was turning into a teenager, and Wally was becoming an adult. It was a natural ending for the family-centric show.

 

Like any kid, he wanted to play sports in high school, so he quit acting in order to attend the Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks.

What Happened to Lumpy and Eddie?

Two of the show’s most memorable characters were Lumpy and Eddie. Lumpy Rutherford, the typical big bully played by Frank Bank. Eddie Haskell, the kid who charmed adults but was actually a conniver, was portrayed by Ken Osmond. In the final seasons, neither characters were around so much.

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Both Frank and Eddie decided to try a more heroic career. They served as U.S. Army reserve officers. Osmond was able to work a deal with the Army. He got leave to tape some episodes in exchange for making appearances for the Army’s Special Services.

Tony Dow Could Not Break the Typecast

As a character, Wally Cleaver made such a cultural impression that the actor who played him could not escape the role. He was typecast. As a result, they asked him to play only extraordinarily naïve and wholesome young lads.

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As an actor, Tony was frustrated. It was difficult; he told “Connecticut Magazine.” In 2018 he said, “People really wanted you because you were Wally, or they don’t want you because you were Wally.”

Dow Took a Dig at the Typecast

In 1977, Tony had his chance to air his ire. Appearing in the film “Kentucky Fried Movie,” Dow parodied Wally with a wicked skit. In a courthouse scene, Wally and the Beave are engaged in one of their typical brother-to-brother banters.

 

But as full-grown men, it’s a hilarious caricature of the golly-gee, happy-go-lucky Cleaver boys.

Before Ward Cleaver, Hugh Beaumont Played No-Nonsense Cop Roles

Beaumont was known for playing the lead in crime dramas, but he truly appreciated playing Ward Cleaver.

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As an ordained minister, he said characters like private detective Michael Shayne, who he starred as in several movies, were not fitting for a priest. He’d rather be remembered for Ward, and he was.

Where in the World Is Mayfield?

The Cleaver family lived in a fictional town called Mayfield. The U.S.A. setting was ambiguous on purpose, but that didn’t stop fans from trying to locate the utopian suburb. Some decided Mayfield was in Ohio because Wally attended school nearby Shaker Heights.

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But, in one episode, Beaver says they live 30 miles from the beach. There are also some indications that Mayfield is in Wisconsin because the Cleavers were Packer fans. In another Wisconsin hint, Wally says his high school band played in Madison.

Mayfield Started as a Ford Town but Ended up Chrysler

Early in the series, everyone in town drove a Ford. Those with a sharp eye will notice that all of that changed when Chrysler made a deal to sponsor the show.

 

In the first few seasons of “Leave it to Beaver,” Ward Cleavers’ family car is a 1957 Ford Custom. Later, he’s behind the wheel of a 1959 Plymouth Fury and eventually drove a 1961 Plymouth Belvedere.

Despite its Enduring Popularity, the Show Was Not a Hit

“Leave it to Beaver” is the quintessential 1950 TV program, but, during its run, it never made it to the top 10 in ratings.

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Not once did the program hit the Nielsen’s top 30 rated shows. Surprisingly, they were beat out by programs that are now virtually unknown, like “The Ann Sothern Show” and “The Ford Show.”

The Sitcom Enjoyed a Generous Budget

Though it fell short with ratings, the production behind “Leave it to Beaver” did not skimp. As one of the most expensive sitcoms of the era, it averaged $35,000 per episode. That is equivalent to a $270,000 per episode budget in today’s dollars.

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Production costs were high each time outdoor filming was scripted. Filming inside the studio at the Cleavers family home was less costly, but the show required many outdoor scenes.

Most TV Shows Conclude With a Grand Finale Episode

The final episode of “Leave it to Beaver” disappointed many, to say the least. Instead of an originally written program that concludes the series and ties up loose ends, the production decided to go a different direction.

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The “Leave it to Beaver” final episode was merely a montage of earlier shows. It was called “Family Scrapbook.”

The Pilot Episode Depicted the Cleavers’ First House

Though we don’t know exactly what state they resided in, it’s been determined that the Cleavers lived at 485 Madison Avenue and also at 211 Pine Street. They also lived in one more house.

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The home featured in the pilot episode is different from the others. It’s located at 1727 Buckingham Road, which, in reality, was located at Republic Studios in CBS’s backlot.

The Pilot Episode—How It Was Lost and Found

“It’s a Small World” was the first “Leave it to Beaver” episode, which aired on April 23, 1957. Since then, however, it was tossed aside. No one knew where the reel went.

 

Finally, after 30 long years, it showed up at a storage unit in Illinois. The recovered tape was a print of the original, and it lay hidden in a film vault until 1987!

Judy Hensler Had to Leave the Show

Judy played Jeri Weil, who is a classmate of the Beave. There was only one problem the studio had with her…she started growing up.

 

They asked her to wrap her chest to flatten out any evidence, but the actress refused. It cost her the role.

Jerry Mathers Was Doted on by Alfred Hitchcock

Jerry Mathers worked just a few stages down at the same studio where the television and film legend worked his magic. He was 9 when Hitchcock singled him out for a role in “The Trouble with Harry.”

 

In an interview with Fox News, Mathers recalled, “I would see him when I had a little free time, and he would roll in a big Rolls Royce with a chauffeur.” Hitchcock was always attentive. “He would go, ‘How are you doing today? How’s the show going?’”

At the Audition for Beaver, Mathers Had Another Place to Be

The day Mathers made the cut for the iconic role; he was a 9-year-old boy with an important schedule. He had a cub scout meeting, and he didn’t want to be late!

 

Ironically, his impatient attitude regarding his priority, plus the adorability factor of a little boy in a cub scout uniform, got him the gig. Producers found his honesty charming and a perfect fit with the character. Turns out, it pays off to stay true to yourself!

The Marines Turned Mathers Down

Despite Jerry Mathers’ determination to join the war effort with the U.S. Marines, they declined his service.

 

The Vietnam War was bloody with a growing American casualty list, and the military did not want to risk a famous American asset. In the end, he found a way to serve as a 146AW member of the California National Guard.

The Media Reported Mathers Was Killed in Combat

Sadly, Private J. Mathers was killed in Vietnam in 1968. When the news broke, the press mistakenly attributed the death to the “Leave it to Beaver” actor. Oops!

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The name was the same, but, of course, Mathers never made it to South Asia. After the report hit the news, perhaps the actor understood better why the Marines rejected him.

Other Media-Generated Buzz Created This Rumor

The actor who played the sneaky rascal, Eddie, was later rumored to have grown up to be Alice Cooper! How did this happen, you may be wondering? Well, in a 1970s interview, Alice Cooper, said that he was like Eddie as a kid.

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Fans thought he said he was Eddie when he was a kid, which would mean he was actually the actor, Ken Osmond!

Fans of Ken Osmond Also Thought He Was John Holmes

Ken Osmond certainly was no John Holmes. Holmes was an adult film star from the 1970s. In fact, Ken Osmond stopped working as an actor in the late 1960s. He was an L.A.P.D. Officer during that era.

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Far from Hollywood, yet patrolling nearby, he was on active duty when he was shot at three times. These were real injuries, not showbiz!

June Cleaver Had Something to Hide

Actress Barbara Billingsley wouldn’t be the same June Cleaver without the string of pearls she always wore.

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But it was less about looking like June than a practical solution. She had a hollow indentation on her neck, and the necklace was the perfect solution to conceal it.

This Is How Hugh Beaumont Came to Be an Ordained Minister

Long before he landed the Ward Cleaver gig, Beaumont unwittingly studied for it. As a philosophy student, he obtained his master’s in theology at USC and became an ordained minister.

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Afterward, he found Hollywood pay to be exceedingly better than what he could collect at his Sunday service. So, he decided to try his luck in Hollywood.

Tragedy Marked Hugh Beaumont’s Life

When Beaumont got the role of Ward, he decided to move his family out to Hollywood. He had been commuting from Minnesota, but a weekly series would require him to be in California.

 

When his wife, son, and mother-in-law were driving out west, a terrible crash killed his mother-in-law and badly injured his son. He said the tragic accident made work difficult, and as if he was just going through the motions.

Actor Frank Bank Took It to the Bank

Lumpy Rutherford was great as a dense bully, so it’s surprising to learn that he became a successful banker later in life. He was a smart financial planner. He took his earnings and invested it, earning $300,000 per year.

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Making a name for himself as a successful stockbroker, he managed the accounts of costars Dow, Mathers, and Billingsley.

Rusty Stevens Had a Mother Who Smothered Him Out of His Job

Rusty Stevens was the child actor who played the Beave’s best buddy, Larry Mondello. Larry was a bit of a dimwit, but fans missed him when he was let go in the fourth season.

 

According to Barbara Billingsley, the actress that played Beaver’s mom, Rusty Stevens’ mother complained and harassed the producers about her kid so much they finally just wrote him off the show.

Co-Creator Joe Connelly Shared His Inspiration for Leave It to Beaver

Joe Connelly basically framed the entire show around his own family. The adventures of Wally and Beaver were based upon his own two sons.

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Listening to the conversations of his boys, Ricky and Jay, he developed the brotherly relationship of the Cleaver household.

The Show’s Working Title Was “Wally and the Beaver”

When the creators were coming up with a name, they wanted one that put the spotlight on the Cleaver boys.

 

They had just about decided on “Wally and the Beaver,” but then they had second thoughts. It sounded like some kind of nature show, so they changed it to “Leave it to Beaver.”

Writers Didn’t Want the Show to Be Too Funny

Why wouldn’t the writers want big belly laughs from the viewing audience? We couldn’t tell you!  Apparently, they were looking for a steady stream of chuckles, instead of bursts of uproarious laughter that shows like “I Love Lucy” evoked.

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Tony Dow said that they would take a line out if it got too much of a laugh. Funnily enough, reading this years later had us laughing out loud!

There Was a Character Named Frankie

In the pilot, Frankie hoodwinked the Beaver into falling for a free bicycle scam. The “Frankie” character did not make it to the “Leave it to Beaver” series, but the actor a name you’ve probably heard of before.

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Harry Shearer went on to “SNL” in the 1980s. We know his voice as Ned Flanders on the notorious show, “The Simpsons.” He also voices Principal Skinner and Mr. Burns.

You’ll Be Surprised to Learn Who Moved Into the Cleavers’ Home

After the second season of “Leave it to Beaver,” the Cleavers moved to a new house located on the fictional Pine Street in the Universal backlot. Forty years later, guess who moved in?

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The street name changed, but the house stayed the same. Now called Wisteria Lane, the house was featured as a home on “Desperate Housewives.” Stay-at-home moms on TV sure did change, by golly!

Mathers Dabbled in the Music Business

When “Leave it to Beaver” went off the air in 1963, Jerry Mathers was a teenager. He decided to give a shot at a singing career. He got a contract with Atlantic Records and recorded a self-titled single called “Don’tcha Cry.”

 

Unfortunately, the song was not a hit. He tried forming a band next. He called it Beaver and the Trappers. You’ve probably never heard of it. Similar to Mathers’s song, it was not a hit.

Stanley Fafara Ended up on the All-Too-Common Child Actor Route

Stanley played one of the Beave’s best schoolyard buddies, Hubert “Whitey” Whitney. When the show ended in 1963, Stanley started high school at North Hollywood High and got in with the wrong crowd.

 

His life spiraled downward from there, and by 2003, he died without a dime to his name. Unfortunately, the actor couldn’t even afford a tombstone for his grave.

The Final Episode, “Family Scrapbook,” Was Actually Ahead of Its Time

During the 1960s, TV shows did not end with a season finale. During those days, the show simply stopped airing.

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So it’s safe to say that by designating the final episode with a special montage of memories from the show, ” Leave it to Beaver” kicked off the season finale tradition.

Showing the Toilet Was Taboo on TV in 1957

Things were much different in the ‘50s. Believe it or not, “Leave it to Beaver” was the first TV series to show a toilet. The episode almost got banned! Even though it pictured just the toilet tank, central to the plot because the boys were using it as an aquarium for their pet alligator, the commode was off-limits.

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Hearing this now is surprising, but back then it was the norm. Married people couldn’t even mention they sleep in the same bed during those times.

The Leave It to Beaver Cast Was Like a Family Backstage

While crazy, behind-the-scenes stories are the norm in Hollywood, the actors who played the Cleavers got along swimmingly. The show’s producers wanted them to be like a family.

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Recently, Tony Dow shared this with Fox News: “There was no swearing on set at all, not even from the crew. They wanted to keep it as family-friendly as possible at all times.”

Tony Dow Became a Sculpture Artist

After his time playing Wally concluded, he signed up for the National Guard and went back to school, but his true success came later.

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Dow’s art was recognized in 2008 when one of his bronze sculptures was chosen for display by de la National des Beaux-Arts in Paris at the Carrousel du Louvre. Today he works with burlwood. He started selling his wood creations in the 2000s.

Jerry Mathers Was Scouted at the Age of Two

He was a toddler out shopping with his mom in a Los Angeles department store when the public relations director spotted him. They needed a catalog model for Mathers’ size because the original 2-year-old model had grown out of the clothing, according to an AARP interview in 2011.

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His mom was a little hesitant at first but relented after the PR rep said they could keep the clothes.

Leave it to Beaver First Aired on CBS

It was CBS, not ABC, who debuted the iconic show. During the first season, the family sitcom didn’t make the cut with Nielsen ratings, and the big one got away. ABC gladly took over production and aired the program until 1963.

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Sixty years later, ABC is still raking it in with two successful spinoffs, home media sales, and tie-in revenue.

The ABC Network Landed the Show

When poor Nielsen ratings left “Leave it to Beaver” on the chopping block, backroom wrangling kicked into high gear. In his 1998 autobiography, “And Jerry Mathers as ‘The Beaver,'” Mathers revealed why ABC landed the show.

 

He said it was Purina pet food that sealed the deal. The company offered the most money to sponsor the program and sealed a contract with ABC.

Leave It to Beaver Was Launched on the Same Day as Sputnik

October 4, 1957, was a momentous day in the United States. On the upside, one of the greatest and most enduring television programs debuted, but on the other hand, Russia took the lead in the space race, flinging its Sputnik 1 satellite into outer space.

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It represented a stinging defeat for the U.S.A. in the Cold War battle, and it triggered public support for the race to the moon. In the end, it would identify the ‘50s as much as the Cleaver family did.

Jerry Mathers Played Little Ricky Before He Was the Beave

Four years before he was cast as Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, Jerry Mathers made an appearance on “I Love Lucy.”

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In the episode called “Ricky’s Old Girlfriend,” Lucy is freaking out because she thinks Ricky is having an affair and is going to leave her. So, she heads out to the streets to beg for loose change.

ABC spent $50,000 on One Episode

“Leave it to Beaver” enjoyed a generous budget. The episode, “In the Soup,” in which the Beave decides to climb up to see if it’s real soup, was one of the most expensive.

 

Luckily, it’s also one of the most memorable. The reason it was so pricey is that the studio built the actual billboard in the Universal backlot. In today’s money, it would be $400,000. In today’s world, they would have had Campbell’s Soup pay for it!

Bob Hope Saved Jerry’s Life

While filming “The Seven Little Foys,” a 1955 comedy movie about vaudeville entertainer Eddie Foy, there was a fire scene that got out of hand. Too much gasoline was poured into igniting the scene, and Mathers’ life was in danger.

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Hope, the legendary actor/comedian, grabbed a blanket and essentially ran into a burning building to save young Mathers.

It Wasn’t Until the Final Episode When Fans Learned How the Beave Got His Nickname

It came out in the “Family Scrapbook” finale. Beaver asked his mom why they call him “Beaver” instead of his actual name, Theodore. Mrs. Cleaver explained that when Wally was young couldn’t pronounce his baby brother’s name, and it sounded like Beaver instead of Theodore, so they just left it.

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Next, Wally pipes in characteristically with, “Gee, I’m sorry, Beave, I didn’t know what I was saying.”